Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Part 2: Our Cycle

Part 2: Our Cycle

Woman, you have 3 main hormones that play distinct roles in regulating your menstrual cycle: estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone. Estrogen performs hundreds of functions in the body, including: Development and maintenance of sex characteristics (breast development, pubic hair, vaginal health), the buildup of your uterine lining, cholesterol and glucose metabolism (helps to increase insulin sensitivity), maintenance of body temperature, bone preservation, skin elasticity and youthfulness, building and maintenance of lean muscle tissue, prevention of estrogen related cancers, preserves memory and cognition, prevention of vaginal dryness, atrophy, UTIs (urinary tract infections), and cystitis, and reduction of cardiovascular disease risk. Estrogen chaos occurs when estrogen goes down the wrong metabolic pathways, is too high or too low, or is unable to be detoxified properly in your body. There are many factors that can influence estrogen’s production, metabolism, excretion, and balance. These include: diet quality, lifestyle choices, sleep, medications, gut health, and environmental toxins. Estrogen can also be impacted by genetics, other hormones (such as in hypothyroidism), and by dietary supplements. Estrogen is mainly produced by the follicles in your ovaries after the stimulation of a hormone called FSH (follicle-stimulating hormone). Your estrogen is also produced by your adrenal glands, within fat tissue, and from the aromatization of testosterone (meaning your testosterone also converts into estrogen). Within your fertile years, estrogen largely comes from your ovarian follicles. However, when you reach menopause where your ovarian reserve is diminished or your HPA (hypothalamic pituitary adrenal) axis is malfunctioning, estrogen largely comes from the aromatization of your testosterone. This is because your follicles are no longer releasing estrogen. Without estrogen, you lose insulin sensitivity, develop vaginal dryness, have increased risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke, have increased susceptibility to fractures and osteoporosis, and lose sensitivity to serotonin, leading to increased risk of anxiety and depression. You actually have three types of estrogen in your body: estradiol, estriol, and estrone. Estrone (E1) is a weak estrogen found in small quantities in your reproductive years. It becomes the main estrogen once you hit menopause and is made mostly through the aromatization of androstenedione (one of your testosterone-related hormones). E1 can convert to E2. This is essential for ladies in menopause. What is E2? Estradiol (E2) is the main estrogen produced in your ovaries from your ovarian follicles. It is the main estrogen that is most commonly mentioned and tested in lab work as well. E2 is the strongest estrogen (aka the super queen bee) and is responsible for the growth of your uterine lining and breast tissue, and contributes to the health of your brain, skin, bone, liver, and your cardiovascular system. E2 estrogen is also one of the main contributors to endometriosis, fibroids, and estrogen-related cancers when in excess. Estriol (E3) is another weak estrogen which predominates during pregnancy. It is primarily made by the placenta and helps to maintain a healthy uterine lining for the baby. It also functions to assist bone mineral density and to maintain bone health. Unlike E1, E3 cannot be inter-converted. E3 stays as E3, while E1 can become E2. Just like estrogen, progesterone also has multiple functions in your body, which include: calming the nervous system and helping the body combat stress, thickening your uterine lining, helping the body use fat for energy, protecting against estrogen-related cancers, increasing your metabolism and basal body temperature, acting as a natural diuretic, and promoting a healthy sex drive. Progesterone interacts with serotonin and GABA, influencing your mood and sleep. This is how low levels of progesterone can increase the risk of anxiety and depression. Low progesterone levels (or high estrogen in relation to normal progesterone, known as relative estrogen dominance), can wreak havoc on your health, hormones, mood, and fertility. Common symptoms of low progesterone include: infertility, mid-cycle spotting, heavy bleeding, crippling PMS, and trouble sleeping. Progesterone can be converted to cortisol in your adrenals. Why is this important? Because in times of chronic stress or in HPA axis dysfunction, your progesterone can over-convert into cortisol, in what is known as the “pregnenolone steal”. An anovulatory cycle is a menstrual cycle where ovulation doesn’t occur, meaning progesterone isn’t made. This can be seen in women who take hormonal birth control, hormonal imbalances, hypothalamic amenorrhea (due to under-eating or over-exercising), nutrient deficiencies, or in hypothyroidism. If you don’t ovulate, you don’t produce progesterone. Low progesterone levels lead to symptoms and conditions such as (get ready this is long): chronic fatigue, abnormal or loss of menstrual cycle, mid cycle spotting, irritability, anxiety, depression, mood swings, trouble losing weight, hypothyroidism, sugar cravings, increased risk for osteoporosis and fractures, hot flashes, hair loss, fibroids, heavy PMS, insomnia, and cardiovascular disease. Testosterone plays crucial parts in your body including: aids in mood and cognition, helps to maintain and build muscle mass and strength, maintains sex drive, promotes preservation of bone mineral density, and helps increase motivation. Testosterone in your body is created by your ovaries and adrenal glands, however half of your testosterone comes from the circulation of two other hormones: DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone) and androstenedione. This is very important to remember, as DHEA and androstenedione also feed into your estrogen through a process called aromatization. An irregular or abnormal menstrual cycle is a warning sign of a disrupted hormonal symphony. Let’s go through the phases. Week 1: Sloth Phase; Decreased energy (but increased strength), slower and sleepier, more reserved and inward focused, Do More: resting and self reflection. Week 2: Dog Phase; Increased energy and concentration, more social and outgoing, greater mood stability, more adventurous and creative, Do More: socializing and activity. Week 3: Peacock Phase; More energetic and outgoing during ovulation (1st half of week), mellow down and become more reserved and more cautious after ovulation (2nd half of week), Do More: socializing and meditation. Week 4: Cat Phase; Decreasing energy and concentration, sleepiness and fatigue, increasing cravings and mood swings, may have increasing anxiety, more reserved and prefer smaller groups or isolation, Do More: self care, rest, sleeping. Your Follicular Phase: Estrogen increases insulin sensitivity, carbohydrates are used more efficiently for energy, may have increased strength and endurance, less reactive to stress. Your Luteal Phase: Progesterone increases insulin resistance, fats used more efficiently for energy, great time for restorative and low impact exercise, may benefit from increased calorie intake, increased basal body temperature due to rise in progesterone. If you are on any form of hormonal birth control, you won’t notice these changes, as your menstrual cycle will not have this natural ebb and flow. Unlike what your doctor told you, the pill won’t regulate your cycle. The pill will take it over, including how your mood and behavior naturally change. The synthetic hormones found within hormonal birth control also work by shutting down the communication between your brain and your ovaries. Your natural hormone production becomes suppressed and the synthetic exogenous hormones take over. This is the reason why birth control is used by many conventional doctors. It takes your cycle and regulates it. However, instead of fixing or balancing your hormones- it shuts them down, takes over, and regulates them itself. You no longer regulate your cycle- your birth control does. In a “cycle” on hormonal birth control, synthetic estrogen and/or progestin (depending on the type) flood your body and tell the brain that it doesn’t need to make its own hormones. In turn, the brain does not secrete LH and FSH, so your ovaries do not receive the signal to ovulate. No ovulation means no pregnancy, but also, no progesterone!

Tuesday, June 21, 2022

Part 1: What are Hormones?

The Women's Guide to Hormonal Harmony: How to Rebalance Your Hormones, Master Your Metabolism, and Become the Boss of Your Own Body. By Lacey Dunn

Part 1: Hormones

Remember these truths: Your diagnosis is not your destiny. Your body is not your identity. Your worth is defined by you, and you alone- not by others. 

What are hormones? Hormones are chemical messengers that play crucial roles in regulating your metabolism, appetite, stress response, emotions, mood, immune system, and so much more. For example, estrogen is not just in charge of helping regulate your menstrual cycle, it is also in charge of helping regulate your mood, bone health, memory, and cardiovascular function. Estrogen plays essential roles in female reproduction, cardiovascular health, metabolism, memory, maintenance of lean muscle tissues, bone health, and body temperature, Progesterone is required for a healthy menstrual cycle and pregnancy by regulating the uterine lining, stabilizes mood, enhances sleep; the calming and relaxing hormone Testosterone is responsible for the growth and maintenance of muscle tissue, motivation, libido, and energy levels and is produced from DHEA. Pregnenolone serves as a precursor to your sex hormones as the “mother hormone” and can be converted into progesterone or DHEA and is created mostly by dietary fat and cholesterol. DHEA is a precursor to testosterone that is produced by your adrenal glands and impacted by the stress response and is considered the “anti-aging hormone”. Insulin regulates the use of fuel from your food and directs your body in how to use and store it. It is produced by the pancreas in response to glucose levels in the blood and acts as a “key” that allows glucose to enter your cells to be used for energy. Ghrelin is the hunger hormone produced to increase your appetite and hunger levels. Leptin is a hormone produced by your fat cells as a marker of energy availability and affects your metabolic thermostat to manage body fat and body weight, and regulates your appetite. Thyroid hormone controls your metabolism, heart rate, body temperature, digestion, and cognition (really affects every cell of your body!). Cortisol largely controls your fight-or-flight stress response, as well as your blood sugar, blood pressure, immune function, and anxiety. Oxytocin provides the “love” or “feel good” hormone and helps to facilitate bonding and also stimulates contractions to induce childbirth. Vitamin D serves as a precursor to your hormones and impacts your immune system, bone health, inflammation, & insulin sensitivity; is made from sunlight or dietary cholesterol. If you want hormonal harmony, you have to assess and treat each hormonal system, including your adrenal, thyroid, and sex hormones. Not only that, but you need to optimize what influences each system, including your gut, lifestyle habits, and mindset. So if holistic health refers to the whole body, what does functional health and functional medicine mean? Functional medicine refers to a systems biology-based approach that focuses on treating the whole person, not just the disease. It involves more than just band-aiding symptoms (such as birth control for PMS or an antidepressant for depression), but aims to identify and address the root cause of symptoms in order to promote and achieve health and well being. 

The following tests are what the author uses in practice along with this questionnaire to identify and diagnose hormonal conditions. DUTCH Complete (hormones only) or DUTCH Plus (if suspected adrenal/cortisol issues). Blood lab markers (you may order through your primary care doctor or self-order through Ulta Labs, MyMedlab, Direct Labs, or Any Lab Test Now). General labs suggested: CMP, TSH, Free T4, Free T3, TPO antibodies, TgAB antibodies, sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG), Estradiol, Progesterone, Free Testosterone, Ferritin, Serum Iron, % Iron Saturation, TIBC, Vitamin D, Vitamin B12, Iodine, RBC Zinc, RBC Magnesium, Serum Copper, GI-Map stool test for assessing intestinal permeability, dysbiosis, infections, overgrowths, and parasites, Hydrogen/ Methane breathe test for SIBO. If thyroid labs are normal but you still have symptoms or suspect cortisol issues, add: Reverse T3, 4 Point Salivary Cortisol, homocysteine, and CRP.

DISCLAIMER: Please work with a health care professional when ordering these tests. I personally recommend the Stram Center (they are functional medicine doctors). 

***Next week we dive into our cycles and what they mean for us!

Tuesday, June 14, 2022

Part 5: Sustainable Food Systems and How to Eat

Part 5: Sustainable Food Systems and How to Eat

Desiring to cause least harm through your food choices is a noble ambition. We completely respect one’s religious or personal choice not to eat meat. If some people don’t like the taste or have a hard time with the idea of eating meat, that’s totally OK. We both have some very good friends who avoid meat, even though they know that this is not an environmentally better or healthier choice. However, there are some people who feel it’s morally superior to avoid meat and would like everyone to adopt a plant-based diet. Today, meat has become symbolic of murder, power, dominance, gluttony, and Western wealth. Many idealize vegetarians as not only healthier but also more enlightened, civilized, pure, and righteous. In a certain sense, veganism and vegetarianism have become religions unto themselves. Humans are only one part of the web, depending on all others in the web to survive. We need the bees, the birds, the snakes, the fish, the grasslands, the rivers. We need as much diversity as possible in order to thrive. Our industrial food system eliminates biodiversity. A diet that eliminates animals relies on a food system that is wholly dependent upon industrial agricultural processes. The enemy is industrial agriculture and hyperpalatable infinite-shelf-life junk food, not the family of farmers down the street who want to raise their animals on grass. Let’s unify the real food community. In fact, as we have seen, there are major vitamin deficiencies connected to a meatless diet. With 1.62 billion people worldwide suffering from anemia, and red meat as our best source of bioavailable iron, we need to take an honest look at how we vilify meat for health reasons. Is the problem in the public schools the burgers, or could it actually be (ironically “plant-based”) fries, pizza, tater tots, chips, and cookies? Is it OK for these programs to post their anti-meat misinformation in schools, telling many food-insecure kids that giving up meat is the right thing to do? Many people living in poverty depend on livestock, and eliminating animals from the food system would actually increase hunger and poverty, leading to more people relying on the government for food assistance. When we advocate that folks give up meat wholesale, we’re often not recommending they fill that hole in their diets with nutritious food. What’s the most affordable food source? As we’ve seen, it’s those processed carbohydrate foods. Instead of worrying about how much meat everyone will be eating, we should be very worried about how much junk food they’re eating. A diet high in refined grains (e.g., processed foods) is the biggest nutritional contributor to diabetes in China. A truly resilient food system requires as much life as possible, and this means animals and plants. Life feeds on death. To remove ourselves from death is to remove ourselves from the cycle of life. We cannot bypass the laws of nature. We’re dependent on all living things, yet we like to think we can somehow survive with less life surrounding us. If our food system (1) makes people so sick that their health-care costs bankrupt global economies, and (2) destroys our topsoil such that we can effectively no longer produce food, then it is, by definition, unsustainable. We firmly believe that a sustainable food system is one that can both feed the populace well and stand the test of time. Researchers found that we’re doing great at carbohydrate production, but not as well with protein and other micronutrients. Our success with carbohydrates, however, has had a serious downside: a worldwide plague of obesity, diabetes and other diet-related diseases. To shift our discussion on food security from “calories” to “nutrient security” means we have to seriously question how we are to provide some of the most critical nutrients. The households with the highest carbon footprints were ones that consumed more fish, vegetables, alcohol, and sugary foods, and ate out at restaurants most often. Meat consumption was a much lower contributor compared to the most glaring offender: eating out. Meat-inclusive diets, be they low fat or low carb, showed a reversal of insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes so long as folks reduced their consumption of refined foods. When we see regions feeding themselves instead of relying on outside food, we generally see more resilience. Animals play an important role in all regenerative food systems, as well as healthy diets for humans. The goal should be to help local farmers and ranchers learn to care for their land in a way that will result in healthy food and best agricultural practices. We can produce more nutrient-dense food in this way. Instead of “everything in moderation,” it’s time we start recognizing that obesity in the West is the result of “quick, convenient, and cheap”. Shopping locally and supporting food producers who are doing it right is not only healthier and better for the environment; it also supports local economies. As we have said, there isn’t just one specific macronutrient ratio, ideal food, or way of eating for all humans. We recommend buying the best-produced food you have access to. This book recommends the Nutrivore Challenge. What the Nutrivore Challenge and all these other plans have in common is prioritizing protein to avoid ravenous hunger and reducing your intake of highly processed foods, which are easy to overeat. This is not intended for individuals with eating disorders, for whom “everything in moderation” may actually be the best advice. For the rest of us, the advice of “everything in moderation” can often lead to overconsumption of hyperpalatable, ultraprocessed foods. Eggs from pastured chickens are actually worth the extra money because their fats are significantly better than industrially raised chicken eggs. We see many people avoiding roots and tubers while on a Paleo diet because they are trying to reduce their carbohydrate intake. Carbohydrates do have benefits such as lowering cortisol (stress), fueling highly glycemic workouts (like CrossFit), and acting like a prebiotic in your intestines (by feeding your good bacteria). If animal flesh is completely off the table, shoot for eggs from pasture-raised chickens and fermented dairy products from grass-fed cows, like cheese and yogurt. Compared to the nutrivore breakfast, most American breakfasts are low in fat, low in protein, and high in carbs. Eating this way in a fasted state (first thing in the morning) can set a person up for a blood sugar roller coaster. Just because a food is considered OK for the nutrivore diet doesn’t mean that you are free to eat ten pounds of bacon at each meal, or chase each snack with a gallon of coconut milk. Athletes should naturally consume more starchy vegetables like roots (carrots and parsnips) and tubers (potatoes and sweet potatoes). The macronutrient combination and calorie load that works for a twenty-five-year-old athlete may not work for a fifty-year-old recovering from hip surgery. It’s best to consider your weight loss goals, stress level, and activity level. For weight loss, consider consuming the bulk of your daily starch intake in a post-workout meal. More active people can include more starches. Winter squashes like butternut are lower in calories than potatoes or sweet potatoes. The idea is that carbs alone or fat alone are not necessarily going to spark overeating. However, the magical combination of carbs plus fat seems to be an unnaturally winning combination to our brain’s circuits. Most hyperpalatable junk food is this combo—think about potato chips. It’s hard to overeat plain boiled potatoes, but fry them in a vat of oil and many people can crush a whole bag in one sitting. Some of the most hyperpalatable foods include mashed potatoes (with butter), chocolate chips, potato chips, custard, French toast, waffles, blueberry muffins, hash browns, garlic bread, and human breast milk. Remember, you shouldn’t feel hungry, but it’s also not ideal to eat past capacity.

Tuesday, June 7, 2022

Part 4: Agriculture, Ecosystems, and the Future of Food

Part 4: Agriculture, Ecosystems, and the Future of Food

The right solution here might not be all or nothing. Rather, we might have to start looking at how natural systems work and doing our best to support those processes instead of circumventing them. Cattle manure has proven a vital component in healthy grassland ecosystems. Not only does the grass thrive—it expands beyond the intended boundaries of the test area. The cows breached the safety fencing and did what cows do: pee and poo. And eat. And move. And breed. A dynamic equilibrium is found. The grassland slowly spreads around the planet, supported by the activity of the cows, whose population is kept in check by the wolves. Or a virus could wipe out the whole herd of cattle. Just one of these three species dies, and the entire system goes with. The solution? As quickly as possible, introduce as many new species of plants, animals, bacteria, and fungi to increase the biodiversity and thereby stabilize the planetary ecology. It was because millions of bison and other ruminants were grazing and fertilizing the soil, driving the solar fueled process that typifies grasslands. Without ruminants chomping, grass just grows, oxidizes (this is a slow, nonproductive process in which sunlight slowly turns organic matter into the biological equivalent of ashtray leavings), and eventually dies. Over 90 percent of the pasture’s health lies underground. Continuous grazing, where the land is not allowed to rest, depletes the root biomass, increases the bare ground, lowers soil organic carbon reserves, and contributes to soil erosion and compaction, decreasing its water-holding capacity. Exposed soils— which can result from overgrazing, overstocking, or poor cropping—emit greenhouse gasses. Industrial monocropping, though it can temporarily feed a lot of people some cheap calories, is a horror show to nature. Growing food is a biological process, but we’ve taken this biological process and turned it into a chemical one. Not only is this system more precarious than we’d like, the very processes supporting industrial agriculture are literally blowing the soil from beneath our feet. The bulk of modern life, including food production, is driven by the use of fossil fuels. This would continue the trend of the past sixty years, with wheat, rice, and corn taking center stage in the diets of most people. Modern agricultural practices have allowed us to dramatically increase our numbers to the point where humans have expanded to nearly every corner of the globe. But in this process we have inadvertently shifted what was once a highly diversified planetary ecosystem into something much closer to Grassworld. Synthetic fertilizers bypass the complex natural processes established over millennia involving sunlight, plants, animals, and a host of soil microbes. These are the three main greenhouse gasses (GHG) associated with agriculture: carbon dioxide (CO2), primarily released in plowing, cutting trees, and when burning fossil fuels, methane (CH4), which comes mostly from rice and belching cattle, and nitrous oxide (N2O), largely coming from the application of fertilizers. According to a recent NASA study, the largest contributors to methane are fossil fuels, fires, and wetlands or rice farming. It all comes from a 2006 analysis by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) called Livestock’s Long Shadow. The report stated that livestock produce 18 percent of all GHG emissions, which was more than the transportation sector. In the case of cattle, a full life cycle analysis was done on the industry. This means they looked at the feed production, transport of the feed, processing, transport to stores, and the like—everything from what the animal ate to how it ends up in a consumer’s meal. There’s a lot more going on here than cow burps. More damningly, the same cradle-to-grave assessment was not conducted on the transportation sector. Only direct emissions from burning gasoline were calculated. A new study was published showing that fertilizer plants emit a hundred times more methane than the industry previously reported. Once this is folded into the GHG emissions data, it will be even clearer that synthetic chemical-driven industrial monocrop agriculture—which has brought us high yields at the expense of soil loss, ecosystem destruction, and intense GHG emissions—will no longer be acceptable as we move into the future. Instead of utilizing pasture grown with the help of free energy from the sun and photosynthesis, the peas, soy, and other crops that go into these burgers must be sprayed, harvested, transported to a factory, and then dumped into large vats to be extruded into a product hardly distinguishable from pet food. There’s nothing natural, eco friendly, or pure about it. Pollinators lose their habitat, birds lose their food, soil microbes are annihilated, and water runoff destroys waterways, creating dead zones. When you compare this production method to a grazing animal on pasture, which is actually improving ecosystem function, converting food we can’t digest (grass) on land we can’t crop (pasture) into the most vital and nourishing food for humans (meat) with very little needed in the way of labor, inputs, and fossil fuels, then regeneratively produced beef is the clear winner here. Starting to document other ecological outcomes from grazing animals, like water filtration rates, increase in plant diversity, decreases in bare spots in pastures, and the return of pollinators, birds, and other wildlife. None of this is happening in the industrial monocrop system. What we take away from this is that even typical beef is a net win for our food system nutritionally, and if we improve our production and finish cattle in a well-managed system on grass, which helps dramatically reduce emissions, then it can benefit the environment as well. Now, in the case of chicken and pork, we are talking about a highly energy-intensive process that diverts what is ostensibly human food into animal food, but this is almost purely grains and legume products such as soybeans. With cattle, it’s quite different. When looking at what only ruminants eat, the numbers are even lower for grain, at only 10–13 percent of the diet for cattle, globally. Grass and leaves make up 57.4 percent of global ruminant feed rations. The rest is inedible by humans, like “crop residue” such as corn stalks. In response to the “plants = good” and “meat = bad” paradigm, we’d like you to consider this question: Is overgrazing worse than industrial synthetic-chemical monocropping? Over their lifespan, typical cattle only get 10 percent of their diet from grain. This means that about 90 percent of the feed for beef is inedible by humans. Let’s ruminate on that for a moment: Cattle convert grass and other nutrient-poor food into nutrient-dense food for humans. This is something ruminants are really good at doing. They’re upcycling nutrients! Beyond Burger is one famous plant-based meat substitute that’s gotten large amounts of funding. But is this a healthier product than grass-finished beef, and is it really better for the environment? The main ingredients are pea protein isolate and canola oil. Do you think that chemically sprayed monocropped peas and canola fields are causing less harm than a field of grass-fed cattle on land we can’t crop, increasing biodiversity and soil health? Is this product increasing or decreasing biodiversity and soil health? They aren’t even using organic ingredients, and nutritionally, this is a pale comparison to a real beef burger. We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: we don’t need more calories in our food system; we need more nutrients. This means that the more we “megacrop,” the more soil degradation happens. As soil health fails, so will the amount of land that we have to farm. No matter the technique, the main idea we’re trying to get across is this: by far the best thing a farmer can do is increase soil biology, which is what’s necessary to make minerals bioavailable to plants. For example, one could make the case—and we will—that eating a diet built from grazing animals, fruits, vegetables, and roots and tubers is not only more nutrient dense (healthier) but arguably more ethical because it is more environmentally sustainable.